Ask Polly: I’m 36—Did I Miss My Chance for Love?

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Dear Polly,

By any reasonable standard, my life is good. I have a well-paid, interesting job, great colleagues, and I’m gradually paying off the mortgage on my apartment. I’ve taken fabulous holidays — last year I spent six weeks in Central America — and even lived in France for several years, including while I earned my master’s degree. My parents and sister live nearby. I’m close to them and we have dinner together most weeks. I’m a leader in a Girl Guide unit with fabulous co-leaders and a great group of girls. Guiding lets me be creative and I get real satisfaction from helping the girls to do things that seemed scary to them (lighting a fire is a supercool achievement when you’re 7 years old!). I have good friends who share my interests, particularly in good food. I’m a keen cook and try out new and exotic recipes every week. And I recently made the winning cake in the office bake-off!

But I’m single and 36 years old. Apart from the odd holiday fling, I’ve not been in a relationship for six years. I desperately want to find a good man and settle down and have children, but I can’t even find a man to go on a date with! Most of my friends are now coupled up and have small children, and I’m terrified I’ve missed my chance to do the same. Mostly I can be happy for them, but occasionally I’m torn to pieces by the unfairness of it. Why do they get to have a partner AND children, when I get neither? What’s wrong with me? Why do people who were (and are) ambivalent about having children get to have them, when I’ve always wanted to be a mom and don’t get the chance?

I probably haven’t devoted as much energy to online dating as I should have, but I find it so draining to put myself out there all the time and NEVER hear anything back. The online silence is like being slapped in the face with my singleness. No sane person lines up to be slapped every day. Several friends who found true love online have helped with my profile, so I don’t think my online first impression is letting me down. But I’ve never had a message from a guy I met on a dating site, much less gone on a date. Even though I don’t mention them in my profile, can men tell that I like Guides and baking and other “girly” things and run away? Or should I lie about my degrees and my independent travel and try to do whatever it is other women do to “snare” a man? What does that even mean? And how much will I be made to pay for not realizing that I should have spent my 20s “snaring” rather than learning and working and traveling and volunteering and whatever else I did?

People (friends, sisters, colleagues, you name it) are now suggesting to me that I should just give up on finding a relationship, and have a baby on my own. I have enough money and family support that I could probably pull it off pretty well, but it just seems so unfair to the kid. I see all my male friends who love their children so much, and I just can’t deny my future child that love! So if I can’t find a man and won’t have a child without one, do I spend the next few decades just continuing to do what I’m doing? It seems a rather bleak prospect.


Missed the Boat

Dear MTB,

Welp, too bad! Looks like you missed the boat, all thanks to your terrible judgment. There you were, foolishly pursuing your career, getting your master’s degree, and traveling the world, when you could’ve spent two full decades pursuing true love, mostly by sitting on a couch in Culver City, sucking down bong hits and watching 2 Fast 2 Furious with your boyfriend who is perfectly okay with your being there, but isn’t so cool with the part where you say things like, “What the fuck are we doing with our lives?” and “Are you ever going to grow up?” and “Haven’t you been wearing that shirt since last week?”

Me, I’m a real success as a lady. While you were getting your silly higher degrees and feasting on fine French cheeses, I was polishing and honing my I’m So Amazing and You Are Super-Lucky to Have Me (So Act Like It for a Change!) speech, delivered to a rotating audience of one Flinchy, Indifferent, Falling-Asleep Boyfriend. It was just like a TEDx talk, except with swearing and weeping and snotty tissues where the wireless microphones and pointless anecdotes and life lessons should go. 

I know you regret not following the path of a savvy marriage-minded lady like me by obsessing over every Tom, Dick, and Dingleberry to darken my door over the course of two full decades. But what can be done? I put in the precious time and energy drinking beers, watching SportsCenter, appearing easygoing, imitating the lighthearted, scrawling in my journal, sculpting my imaginary abs, and weeping into my hands — and of course it paid off. A handsome man wanted to marry me, at age 35! I said yes! We made babies! All it took was two whole decades of obsessing about marriage!

So, here’s what I really want to tell you: You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t waste your time. And you still have time.

There’s nothing wrong or weird or unattractive about you. The only thing that’s worrisome about you right now is how worried you are that there’s something wrong with you. You believe that showing your true self is tantamount to turning men off. As if they can smell your love of baking and Guides and teaching little girls to build fires! As if they are destined to be REPULSED BY THESE THINGS! No, no, no. The ding-dongs that are repulsed by the fact that you teach little kids to build fires are the ding-dongs you don’t want to waste two years of your life puffing bong hits with. And look, I’m not slamming the puffing of bong hits, here, just slamming the life-wasting nowhereland of following indifferent dudes from one Fatburger to another, from one Cineplex to another, from one hometown to another. (“Look, Mom, it’s a perfectly smart, attractive, funny woman with a steady job who’d rather follow me around all day than focus on her career or spend time with her friends or face herself. What do I do with her?” Mom: “Mmm. She’s an edgy one. Have fun, but DEFINITELY DON’T MARRY HER.”)

You think YOU’VE wasted years and you need to catch up. Well, it kills me how many years I wasted, too. I wasted years and years trying to figure out how to be cooler and calmer and nicer and EVEN EASIER-GOING. I wasted two decades crying and feeling like a freak and knowing that I had a deep, dark secret: I was all sugar and spice on the outside and rotten maggots and fiery volcanoes on the inside. And no one would ever love me.

Some people don’t understand that feeling, or how deeply it can compromise your happiness. It just sounds weak and pathetic. That’s because some people DON’T think they’re bad and rotten inside. Some people think it’s perfectly okay to sniffle at sad things and get angry, and they never feigned interest at car-go-fast movies or threw random pissy comments into dude-driven conversations about whether or not Allen Iverson has a bad attitude (OF COURSE HE DOES! HIS FANS ARE A BUNCH OF DIPDONGS LIKE YOU!) or whether or not Jordan could out-dunk LeBron or whether or not Fatburger is better than In-N-Out.

Some people don’t get how fundamentally depressing and lonely and sad that feeling is. They also don’t know how radically self-hating it is to hate yourself FOR YOUR FEELINGS, for your inability to nod along to epic debates about Lance Armstrong, for your interest in so-called “heavy” shit like what you want from your life, what you believe in, what you care about, see also THE ONLY STUFF WORTH TALKING ABOUT.

(Okay, I’m in a little bit of an all-caps mood today, sorry.)

Repeat after me, Missed the Boat: When you deny what you care about, you hurt yourself. When you try to be cooler and less girly than you are, you hurt yourself.

Maybe all of this foaming up inside of me is happening because I just saw Trainwreck. Not only is this movie hilarious, but it’s also all about being a mess and caring so much about everything that you eventually power it all down, hide, run away, and replace the real you with a cool-girl facsimile WHO CAN’T FEEL ANYTHING. A depressed lifelike replica. HERE, DATE THIS REPLICA. FUCK THIS REPLICA, I’LL BE HIDING SOMEWHERE INSIDE, SNOTTING INTO MY SHIRT.

So, here’s your new profile, Missed the Boat:

“I love traveling, baking, and leading a Girl Guide unit. Girl Guiding lets me be creative and I get real satisfaction from helping the girls to do things that seemed scary to them (lighting a fire is a supercool achievement when you’re 7 years old!). Kids are the best. So am I. Those that doubt me suck cock by choice.”

Okay, sorry, that turned into MY profile at the end.

Speaking of which, here’s what my online-dating profile actually said, years ago:

Q: Name 5 things you can’t live without.

A: 1. String cheese, 2. Toe cheese, 3. Head cheese … Actually I only need 3 things.

Apparently, I was trying to attract sociopaths. But I am not a zero-fucks jokester, so it didn’t really make sense to play one online. I’m a sensitive person. I don’t think I even understood that back then. I just thought I was deeply flawed. Instead, like so many other people out there, I’m independent, but I’m also very needy sometimes. I’ll bet you are, too, Missed the Boat. I’ll bet you’re extremely sensitive and also tough. I’ll bet you’re brave and strong and also lonely and tired of trying.

BUT: You have to keep trying. Maybe having a baby alone is the way to go eventually. I don’t think that’s a terrible option, I think it’s a brave and exciting option. You should do some research on that, gather information, and maybe resolve to revisit it in a year or so. But put it on the back burner for the moment. Right now, you need to keep online dating, keep going out and meeting people, keep joining new clubs and taking new classes, keep asking friends to invite you to the parties of other friends. Please trust me that 36 is not that old. I have a friend who met her wife at 36, and another who remarried at 40 and is happier than she’s ever been. In your late 30s, men (some of them divorced! Don’t overlook the great divorced guys!) start looking around for a REAL partner instead of a fantasy, someone who has some experience under her belt, knows exactly what she loves, and isn’t afraid to show it. Someone like you.

If finding a partner is important to you, you have to open your heart and put time and energy into it, and you have to be committed to taking rejection in stride. Rejection isn’t personal. You are who you are! You’re not trying to be everybody’s favorite lady, you’re just trying to be YOU. Stop hiding and stop marketing yourself and stop trying to seal the deal. The last thing in the world you want is to coax some random, thoughtless fuckwinder into marrying you.

But don’t give up hope. Why wouldn’t you feel optimistic? You’re already pretty happy. You’re going to rock this out and have the life you want no matter what. So be your dangerously girly self, without apology. Be her forever and everywhere. Shout to the sky, “I AM GIRLY. I LOVE KIDS. I LOVE BUILDING FIRES. I LOVE BAKING CAKES. I HAVE FEELINGS. I AM NOT COOL. I WILL NEVER BE COOL. I AM MADE OF MAGIC.”

You haven’t missed the boat. There are boats everywhere. Maybe you’ll like one of them and maybe you won’t. I think you will. But in the meantime, savor this moment. Be exactly who you are, and savor it. Even true love doesn’t come close to feeling as good as that.


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All letters to become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

Ask Polly: I’m 36—Did I Miss My Chance for Love?